How To Dress Casual For Your Interview (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 2, 2020

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For certain types of jobs or workplaces, smart casual is the type of dress you’ll want to consider when choosing your outfit for an interview.

Making a good first impression at a job interview depends heavily on the choice of your attire. But dressing to impress doesn’t always mean putting on a suit and tie. Choosing the right outfit for your interview can be a little bit more challenging than that.

More casual workplaces are becoming common in today’s world. Many companies in industries such as technology are becoming more relaxed about the attire they expect their employees to wear. This becomes part of the company culture.

So, if you enter a job interview for a company that’s not formal, entering the office in a suit and tie might be more off-putting than beneficial.

What is Smart Casual Dress?

Smart casual is a bit less dressy than traditional business casual and definitely more comfortable and practical. This dress code typically comprises well-fitting and appropriate pieces that are slightly less formal than business casual. Smart casual is still an elevated and put-together look and appropriate for an office setting, no matter how casual.

This is the perfect type of dress for companies that are traditionally relaxed about the attire their employees wear to work. It can vary by industry and specific company, so be sure to do your research before you choose this type of look.

Smart casual can give you a bit more options to choose from in your wardrobe. Smart casual clothing should all be fitted, in-style, and made of good fabrics. It doesn’t mean you should attempt to be flash or flamboyant, but rather simple, polished, and put-together.

Smart casual will allow you to look sharp and in-style, while still being comfortable. This allows for optimal confidence boosting. This type of dress will show your recruiter or hiring manager that you have self-confidence and self-awareness in how you dress.

Below are some common examples of outfits that are considered smart casual dress.

  • Jeans Dressed up With a Blazer. Blazers are a wonderful item of clothing to have in your wardrobe. They can dress an outfit up, but can also be added to a more casual outfit for a more professional look. Blazers are often trendy, offered in both patterns and solid colors. Choose one that works for your personal look.

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    Pairing your blazer with jeans dresses down the blazer in a fashionable way. You can choose dark-wash or light-wash jeans, just make sure they’re not ripped or torn and are tailored appropriately for your body. You can also choose whatever shirt you find appropriate under the blazer. Button-down shirts or blazers are the safest options you can go with.

  • Button Downs and Jeans or Khakis. A button-down shirt is a staple for most wardrobes. Just like a blazer, the button-down shirt can be dressed up or down, depending on your needs. If you are entering a casual environment, paring a button-down shirt with jeans or khakis is a great option.

    Although solid color button-downs work well for more formal environments, for a more casual environment you can certainly choose a pattern that works with your jeans or khakis. This still gives off a polished, clean, and professional look, but it’s comfortable and practical for going about your business.

    Again, depending on the company and culture, you can dress the button-down up as well. Pairing your button-down shirt with a tie or a jacket can instantly turn up the volume on how formal you look.

  • Cotton Blouses and Skinny Jeans. For women, a cotton blouse and skinny jeans can work perfectly for a smart casual look. Be sure your jeans fit appropriately. Dark-wash is best for this type of outfit, because the color will go with more colors than a light-wash. Oftentimes, the look of this type of pant mimics that of a dress pant, which allows you to look professional while staying comfortable.

    The cotton blouse is also a great staple to keep in your wardrobe. You can get a cut that’s more dressy than your average t-shirt, sometimes with cute patterns that can show more of your personality. Blouses are comfortable and flattering, so you can feel your best when you enter the room for your interview.

  • Dark-Wash Jeans and Flats. Dark-wash jeans, as mentioned above, are one of those items that can almost work with anything. Dark-wash jeans are the perfect pant for comfort and professionalism, and you can pair them with button-down shirts, sweaters, or blouses.

    Pairing a dark jean with a flat shoe is a great way to feel even more comfortable, but still look professional. Choose a flat that you’re already comfortable wearing and make sure that the jean you choose isn’t meant for a taller shoe. It’s always a great idea to get a pair of jeans tailored for a high shoe, and ones tailored for a lower shoe, or flat.

  • A Blazer and T-Shirt. Depending on how casual the environment of the workspace you’re entering is, a blazer and a t-shirt might be a different option you can go with. This is often a popular trend with men, allowing them to show their personality through a t-shirt, but make it slightly more professional with a blazer. Compliment this outfit with a nice pair of khakis or a pair of nice jeans and you’re the perfect balance of business and casual.

  • Pants and Plaid. In a smart casual environment, plaid is a welcome option you can have in your wardrobe. This is not typically something people would wear in a more formal environment, but for a smart casual environment it works. Swap your traditional button-down shirt for a plaid shirt and pair it with a nice pair of pants for a more polished look. If you want to dress this look up even more, opt for dress flats rather than sneakers, or a heel, if you’re up to it.

  • A Nice Top and Tailored Jeans. For men, having tailored jeans might feel like something foreign. However, tailoring your jeans is important for both comfort and professionalism. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone with too-long jeans that have frayed ends or dirty material. Jeans should be hemmed for your height and be well-fitted.

    When your jeans are tailored and fit well, they automatically give you a clean and polished look. Pairing these types of pants with a more casual top is great, and can relax the formality of the pant. Ensure your shirt if wrinkle-free and not dirty. For this outfit, you can choose a simple shoe that is more dressy to polish your look even further.

Why Choose Smart Casual?

As mentioned above, it’s absolutely imperative that you do your research on a company before you choose the smart casual look for your interview. This is not a look that suits all jobs or companies and some industries are more critical than others. If you come to find out that the employer you are interviewing with is more casual, then this is a great option for you.

Taking the time to do your research about a company and how they dress shows that you respect the company and are serious about the job you’re applying for. You want to present yourself as polished as possible and sometimes that means being a bit more casual for a strong first impression.

This is the time to use high-quality yet comfortable articles of clothing for your interview. You want to look smart, but casual. You don’t want to look like you just rolled out of bed or that you pulled your clothes from a dirty laundry pile. Ensure that you decide on your outfit before the day of your interview so you can ensure the clothes are clean, tailored, and ironed for the most professional look.

Don’t confuse smart casual with overly casual. You should avoid certain articles of clothing for any job interview including:

  • Flip flops and open-toed sandals are not professional enough to wear as footwear to any interview. Consider wearing an open-toed conservative heel instead.

  • Sneakers or athletic shoes are also footwear to stay away from. Try a simple loafer or a dressy flat shoe to complete your look.

  • Shirts with thin straps or strapless tops aren’t appropriate for job interviews unless covered by an appropriate sweater.

  • Shorts or skirts that are too short should be left behind in your wardrobe. If you’re not sure if your skirt is too short for a job interview, try measuring the length with your arms at your sides. If the skirt’s hem is above your fingertips, try something a little longer.

  • Undergarments should never be exposed in any way at a job interview. This is something to check for before you leave the house. Make sure bra straps are tucked away and boxer briefs are worn below your belt line.

  • Too short dresses are also something to avoid. Use the same rule as above to ensure your dress is the correct length.

  • Anything with low-cut necklines or things that expose your midriff are also unacceptable for interviews. Check in the mirror before you decide on an outfit, or ask a close friend to give you an honest opinion.

  • Too much perfume or cologne can be a huge deterrent to your interviewer. Be sure to use a modest amount, if any at all.

  • Too many accessories or body jewelry can be distracting and set the wrong tone for your interview.

In moderation, jewelry and perfume are perfectly acceptable accessories to your outfit.

However, the rest of the things on this list are never appropriate for a job interview, no matter how casual the environment.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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